Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, has described the EU and India as natural partners.
Conceptually we are, though in practical terms we have not been so far. We share values and beliefs but these have not shaped our political and economic choices based on pragmatism. The changing international scenario is, however, bringing the EU and India closer. Both face grave threats from religious extremism and terrorism. Climate change has become a shared concern. China’s assertiveness and its national ambitions and plans affect the interests of both. China’s search for equal status with the US will be at Europe’s and India’s expense. Trump’s unpredictable policies have weakened US leadership in several regions. India and the EU could fill the void together to the extent possible with other like-minded partners. India’s rise creates more economic opportunities for Europe.
The summit statement on counter-terrorism this time specifically identified “globally proscribed terrorists and terror entities, including Hafiz Saeed, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Dawood Ibrahim, Lashkar-e-Tayibba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen”, which increases diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. But the EU has shied away from mentioning “cross-border terrorism”. In another rebuff to Pakistan, the EU has appreciated India’s positive role in extending development assistance in Afghanistan, “including for building social and economic infrastructure, governance institutions and human resource development and capacity building”.
The EU has joined us in underlining that connectivity issues must be based on “universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality, and must follow principles of financial responsibility, accountable debt financing practices, balanced ecological and environmental protection, preservation standards and social sustainability”. This is a critique of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. We apparently could not convince the EU to also include a reference to respect for sovereignty in connectivity initiatives.
This time the joint statement refers, albeit indirectly, to the South China Sea issues by underlining the “importance of freedom of navigation, overflight and peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with the universally recognised principles of International Law, notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982”. This reflects heightened EU concern about China’s policies. On the North Korean nuclear tests, India and the EU have pointed fingers at China and Pakistan implicitly by stressing “the responsibility of those who support DPRK’s nuclear and missile programmes”.
Rejecting Trump’s position, India and the EU have supported the Iranian nuclear deal as a “crucial contribution to the non-proliferation framework and international peace, stability and security”.
On Myanmar, the fleeing Rohingyas have not been described as refugees and violence by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants against the security forces as well as the civilian population has been noted in the joint statement.
On the economic side, no progress was announced on the EU-India Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) negotiations, with Juncker candidly observing that talks will resume once the conditions are right, which means that the gap in positions remains. On intellectual property rights and public procurement talks will continue. An investment facilitation mechanism for EU investments in India has been established. The European Investment Bank’s office in India will focus in particular on climate action and renewable energy programmes.
The intention to resolve issues relating to trade in agricultural products in general, and rice in particular, has been expressed. The summit adopted a separate joint statement on clean energy and climate change. All in all, the 14th summit on October 6 has moved the India-EU relationship geopolitically and economically in the right direction, but without spectacular results.
(The author is former foreign secretary, views expressed are his own)